Unlocking the Goodness of Grains Part 1: Millets Day 2: Unlocking the Goodness of Grains Part 1: Millets

Unlocking the Goodness of Grains Part 1: Millets

Grains are the heart of what we eat, a fundamental part of our daily meals, especially in the diverse landscape of Indian cuisine.

Think of grains as nature’s powerhouses! They come in a variety of types, each with its own unique taste and texture. Grains are like nature's fuel, packed with things that keep our bodies strong, like fiber for digestion, iron for blood, and protein for growth.

There are a variety of grains, including some that you use daily. Examples of grains include millets, wheat, rice, barley, corn, oats, bulgur, sorghum, amaranth, and quinoa. Today we will start with the most promising of the lot: the humble millet!

Say Hello to Millets!

Did you know that millets are believed to be one of the oldest grains cultivated by humans?

Cultivated in India for over 5000 years, millets are whole grains that are a nutritional powerhouse. For many ancient Indian civilizations, millets were the staple food.

In fact, just six decades ago, millets comprised about 40% of the cultivated grains in India (surpassing even rice and wheat). When the Green Revolution occurred, millets lost their prominence in an effort to increase the cultivation of wheat and rice. Millets were unfortunately labeled the “poor man’s food.” They faded away into obscurity until recently, when people started recognizing and promoting the goodness of these ancient grains.

Today, millets are regaining their prominence and popularity globally and in India, with India being the largest producer of this group of grains. While the Indian Government declared the year 2018 as the “National Year of Millets” to promote their cultivation and consumption, the United Nations designated 2023 as the “International Year of Millets.”

Why Are Millets So Popular in India?

As per the UN FAO’s (Food and Agricultural Organization) latest report titled ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022: Repurposing Food and Agriculture Policies to Make Healthy Diets More Affordable’, about 71% of the Indian population cannot afford a nutritious diet. Despite being the second largest food producing country in the world, India is struggling to fight hunger and malnutrition.

To tackle this problem and enable more people to have access to affordable, easy-to-grow, and nutritious food, the Indian Government has increased efforts in promoting millet consumption.

Here are the top 4 reasons why millets are a popular choice for us Indians:

      • Nutritionally dense: They’re packed with protein, antioxidants, and nutrients.
      • Faster cultivation: They’re easy and quick to grow (they mature in half the time it takes for rice/wheat)
      • Drought-tolerant: They can grow easily in environments with very little water.
      • Low maintenance: They require no fertilizer and are pest and disease resistant.

The Great Health Benefits of Millets

Fiber: Overall, millets are an excellent source of dietary fiber (both soluble and insoluble). The insoluble fiber found in millet acts as a “prebiotic” (food for the good bacteria) and helps build a healthy gut and digestive system in your baby.

Essential nutrients: Millets contain vitamins, minerals, calcium, phosphorus, protein, potassium, magnesium, copper, and manganese. These nutrients are essential for bone strength and a healthy cardiovascular system.

Anti-cancer properties: Some millets, especially foxtail millet, contain anti-cancer properties as well.

Antioxidants: Millets are packed with antioxidants that can help our body fight against illnesses and aging.

Managing the Antinutrients in Millets

There are certain antinutrients in millets, such as tannins, phytates, oxalates, or polyphenols, which inhibit the body’s ability to absorb nutrients effectively.

But don’t worry, there are various processing techniques that can help reduce or remove these antinutrients.

    1. Milling
    2. Parboiling
    3. Blanching
    4. Fermenting
    5. Germinating
    6. Soaking

That’s why it’s best to soak millet overnight (after washing them thoroughly) to ensure your little one’s body gets the best nutrition from millets.

Different Types of Millets

There are over 20 different types of millets. Some of the most commonly available ones in India are given below along with: (1) their native/regional names, (2) their nutritional values, and (3) ways to prepare or use them for your baby’s diet.

1) Finger millet (Ragi)

      • Widely grown in India
      • One of the most popular millets used to make baby food (ragi porridge or kanji, for example, are usually one of the first foods given to Indian babies).
      • A fantastic source of calcium, iron, phosphorus, fiber, and thiamine. The calcium present in finger millet is 10 times higher than that in wheat or rice.
      • Sprouting ragi improves the bioavailability of nutrients and makes it easier to digest it.
      • Use it to make dosa, idli, or pancakes.

2) Pearl millet (Bajra)

A hardy crop that can be grown in dry and arid climate

      • A staple food in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana.
      • The richest source of iron compared to all other millets!
      • Richer in iron, fat, calcium, and phosphorus, when compared to rice.
      • Packed with protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber.
      • Use it to make porridge, rotis, bhakri, and khichdi.

3) Sorghum (Jowar)

      • A drought-resistant crop grown in many parts of India (largest sorghum-producing states are Maharashtra and Karnataka)
      • High in protein, fiber, and antioxidants
      • A wonderful addition to baby foods in the form of a jowar-ragi porridge (sweetened with dates/banana).
      • Use it to make jowar appe, muthiya, roti, or bhakri.

4) Foxtail millet (Kakum/Kangni)

      • Also known as Italian millet, it’s a short grain millet.
      • Popularly grown in many parts of India (due to short growing season).
      • Rich in protein, fiber, and minerals like iron and calcium, helping strengthen the baby’s nervous system.
      • Use it to make porridge, khichdi, upma, or dosa.

5) Little millet (Samai /Kutki)

      • A short grain millet (as the name suggests) that’s very easy to grow.
      • Usually found in the Eastern Ghats in India.
      • Rich in fiber, protein, and minerals like iron and magnesium.
      • Cooks faster than the other millets (due to short grain size).
      • Can be used as a substitute for rice in any recipe that traditionally uses rice.
      • Use it to make payasam/kheer (sweetened with fruits/dates), upma, and dosa.

6) Kodo millet (Kodo)

      • A hardy millet grown in the hilly regions of India.
      • A digestible millet that contains more of “lecithin,” an amino acid that helps in strengthening babies’ neurological systems.
      • Packed with protein, fiber, antioxidants, B Vitamins (niacin, B6, folic acid), other vitamins, and minerals (calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, zinc).
      • Use it to make khichdi, upma, idli, and pongal.

7) Barnyard millet (Sanwa)

      • Grows in certain parts of Andhra Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
      • Its specialty is that it grows even in marginal lands.
      • Rich in calcium, phosphorus, and iron.
      • Use it to make upma, pongal, kheer, chilla, pulao, etc.

8) Proso millet (Chena/Barri)

      • Also known as broomcorn millet
      • Mostly found in drier regions since it does not need a lot of water to grow.
      • Boasts the highest phosphorus content amongst all millet varieties! Phosphorus is necessary for strengthening a baby’s immune system.
      • Contains high lecithin content, which helps the nervous system to function smoothly.
      • Use it to make idli, dosa, upma, etc.

Choking, Gagging, or Allergies

Millets are not a choking hazard, but as is the case with any kind of food, we want to ensure our babies are sitting upright during meal times and are supervised by an adult.

There can be gagging initially when introducing millets especially if cooked in the rice-like texture, but that’s normal and this reflex eases out as the baby gets used to the food.

Millets are not a common allergen; however, allergies can occur for any food as people react differently to it. So, it’s best to keep a close eye on your baby during and after mealtimes, and consult your doctor if you have concerns.

3 Expert Tips for Cooking with Millets

1) Toast it: A secret tip to extract more flavor from millets is to lightly toast the seeds before using them.

2) Make it chewy: For a rice- or quinoa-like consistency (a bit chewy), use 2 cups of water for 1 cup of millet.

3) Make it creamy: For a porridge-like consistency (creamy), use 3 cups of water for 1 cup of millet

Incorporating Millets in Your Family Diet

Millets are great for children and adults, so don’t hesitate next time you decide to replace the usual dal or rice with any of these powerhouse millets!

Here are some quick, easy millet-based recipes:

1) Millet porridge: Millet porridges can be made using fruits. Try making porridge using ragi, rice, moong dal, and jowar. Add some fresh fruits and some milk and you have a well-balanced meal for your baby or even a nutritious breakfast for the whole family!

2) Millet Chapati, paratha, bhakri, koki: An easy way to incorporate millets into your family diet is by using a combination of flours while making chapati or paratha. E.g., use 50% whole wheat flour and 50% millet-based flour like ragi/jowar/bajra.

3) Millet chilla, pancake, crepe: Replace maida or wheat flour while making pancakes. Instead, use ragi/bajra/kodo flour to make delicious and nutritious pancakes that the whole family will devour.

4) Millet idli, dosa, uttapam, appe: Idli is a great food for babies, kids, and adults, and almost all millet varieties can be used to make them. So next time try substituting rice with ragi, kodo, little millet, foxtail millet, or proso millet – to add more variety and texture to your family’s diet.

5) Millet fried rice, pulao, khichdi: Millet varieties like foxtail millet or little millet are easy substitutes for rice. Since they’re so versatile, you can use them to make anything from khichdi to fried rice or pulao.

6) Popped Millet: Did you know that you can pop millet like popcorn? However, a word of caution: popped millet is not recommended for babies (choking risk), but feel free to serve popped millet to older children and adults in the family.

7) Millet Cake: Cakes made with millet flours can be as delicious as the ones made with maida. And what’s more, millet-based cakes will have so much more nutrition! How about baking your baby’s first birthday cake using ragi, foxtail, or jowar?

MILLETS: Age-Wise Recipes & Tips
Select Baby Age
6 to 8 months

1) Serve with a spoon: Cook millets in a thick porridge/khichdi/pongal-like consistency and serve it to your baby with a spoon or offer it on a preloaded spoon for your baby to hold the spoon themselves and bring it to their mouth.

2) Thick, scoopable consistency: Cook millets and mix with thick dal/mashed pulses/meat/curd/mashed veggies and ghee, and let the baby use their hands to scoop it up and eat.

3) Millet patties/balls: Make balls/log-like shape from the cooked millets by mixing with mashed pulses, potato, oats, or besan. Let your baby grab and hold it with their hands (which improves their palmer grasp), so they can bring it to their mouth.

4) Pancakes/chillas: Cut 2 finger-thick long strips from pancakes or chillas, and let your baby hold and eat them.

9 to 11 months

1) Millet bowls: Millets can replace rice preparations and be served as a one-pot meal with dal/sambhar/kadhi; pulses like rajma, chole, chana (flatten the cooked pulses before serving); sabjis; chicken/meat curries in a soft scoopable form.

2) Finger foods: Millet roti, paratha, chilla, dosa, idli, pancake, or idiyappam can be broken into 1-inch small pieces and served to encourage self-feeding. 

- Cut roti/paratha into bite-sized pieces and offer it dipped with sabjis/curries 

- Cut idli into bite-sized pieces and serve dipped in sambhar.

- Cut dosa into long or small strips, and offer it dipped in sambhar or less spicy chutney, vegetable gravy, egg/chicken gravy, or curd.

- Iddiappam dipped in coconut milk, vegetable/chicken stew, or egg kurma

3) Cutlets/burger/patties/fritters: Incorporate millets along with chopped/grated veggies/boiled shredded chicken/minced meat to make soft hand-held patties or cutlets (shallow-fry them). Break them into bite size pieces so your baby can pick and eat with their hands.

4) Millet pulao with curd or rajma (flatten the cooked rajma).

12 to 24 months

Experiment and add as much variety as you can!

Offer millets in many different forms. Introduce the concept of flavors and spices. Try millet salads, noodles, pasta, fried rice, pulaos, and stir fries, along with the varieties mentioned above. 

You can mash the millets slightly so they stick together and your baby can easily scoop them up. It’s alright if they’re not using spoons right now; they will eventually learn, so encourage them to dive in with their hands!

Tomorrow, we explore everyone’s favorite grain: rice! Did you know rice comes in a variety of colors? So stay tuned.

Learn the right ways to nourish from experts